- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 23, 2004

I was recently thinking about the recipes that have changed my cooking life. One in particular that I’ve loved and still make is a dessert called “floating islands.”

My recipe is based on the classic French dessert oeufs a la neige, or snow eggs. It’s one of the most elegant yet simple desserts, and it gets my vote as a recipe that I think everyone should know how to make.

Floating islands consists of light, airy poached meringues floating on a sea of flavored custard sauce. Often, a bit of fruit is included for garnish, and typically, the meringues are drizzled with a little caramel sauce when they are served.

I’ve included a recipe for tangerine caramel sauce in case you decide to go whole-hog.

Floating islands

CUSTARD SAUCE:

2 cups whole milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

6 tablespoons sugar or more

5 large egg yolks

2 tablespoons dark rum or orange-flavored liqueur

Poached meringues:

1 cup whole milk

5 large egg whites

Pinch of cream of tartar

¼ cup sugar

1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

Fresh berries of choice for garnish, if desired

Tangerine caramel sauce for garnish (recipe follows), if desired

To make the custard sauce, gently heat 2 cups milk in a saucepan to scalding. In a separate bowl, beat the vanilla, 6 tablespoons sugar or more to taste, yolks and rum or orange-flavored liqueur together until well-combined.

Slowly whisk in the hot milk, being careful not to scramble the eggs. Return mixture to the saucepan, and cook over moderate heat, stirring constantly until the sauce thickens, about 3 minutes. Immediately remove from heat, strain and chill. Store covered in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

To make the poached meringues, pour 1 cup milk into a wide saute pan and add enough water to bring the combined liquid up to a depth of about 1 inch. Place over moderate heat, and bring to a simmer.

Meanwhile, with an electric beater or by hand, beat egg whites and cream of tartar until they form soft peaks.

Gradually add ¼ cup sugar and lemon zest, and continue to beat until the meringue is stiff but not dry. With two large soup spoons or tablespoons dipped in cold water, form six (3-inch) egg-shaped ovals of meringue and gently drop them into the simmering liquid as they are formed. (You may need to work in batches. The meringues should not touch as they poach.)

Poach the meringues on one side for about 6 minutes, and then gently turn them over and poach on the other side for 4 to 5 minutes. They should be delicately firm at this point. If not, poach them a little longer.

Lift meringues from the liquid, and drain briefly on a clean, dry kitchen towel.Spoon cold custard sauce into shallow bowls, and place a poached meringue in the middle.

Garnish with berries and a drizzle of tangerine caramel sauce, if desired. Makes 6 servings.

TANGERINE CARAMEL SAUCE:

½ cup heavy whipping cream

3/4 cup fresh tangerine or orange juice, strained

13/4 cups sugar

4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into bits

1 teaspoon vanilla

⅛ teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons brandy or bourbon

Mix cream and tangerine or orange juice together, and heat until just below simmer. Set aside and keep warm.

Combine sugar with ½ cup water. Bring to a simmer; cover to help melt the sugar. Uncover and increase heat so mixture boils gently. Do not stir, but wash down any sugar crystals clinging to side of pan with a pastry brush dipped in water. Watch pan carefully, swirling it from time to time until syrup turns golden brown. This will take about 5 minutes.

Turn off heat, and whisk in cream-tangerine mixture in a steady stream. Mixture will bubble dramatically, so stir carefully.

Whisk in butter by bits until completely combined. Stir in vanilla, salt and brandy or bourbon. Store up to a month, covered in the refrigerator. Makes about 1½ cups.

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